Wednesday, January 26, 2022

China faces Omicron test ahead of Beijing Olympics Nation World News

TAIPEI, Taiwan ( Associated Press) — Weeks ahead of hosting the Beijing Winter Olympics, China is battling multiple coronavirus outbreaks in half a dozen cities, including one closest to the capital powered by a highly transmissible Omicron variant.

With the success of the Games and China’s national dignity at stake, Beijing is doubling down on its “zero-tolerance” COVID-19 policy.

Across China, more than 20 million people are in some form of lockdown, many of whom have been prevented from leaving their homes.

Tianjin, only an hour from Beijing, is on high alert, although it has avoided imposing a complete lockdown in Xi’an, a city of 14 million.

Instead, it has closed many residential communities and universities, canceled almost all flights, suspended high-speed train service and closed highways. People leaving the city are required to present a negative COVID-19 test and obtain special permission.

The city on Wednesday conducted a second large-scale test for its 14 million residents, and asked them to stay in their homes until a negative result is received.

Tianjin’s proximity to Beijing makes timing particularly terrifying. During the Tokyo Olympics in July, Japan saw a widespread outbreak driven by the delta variant.

Despite this, disruption to people in Tianjin remains relatively mild.

“Everything is fine, supermarkets and restaurants, you can all go normally,” said Yu Xuan, who works at a university in Tianjin.

Another resident, Wang Dacheng, said his father, who has trouble walking, was able to get tested at his apartment.

“Tianjin people are very optimistic, everyone is very calm and collected,” Wang said.

Elsewhere, in Xi’an to the west and in several cities in Henan province, measures are far more difficult, leading to complaints that people were running out of food in their apartments.

China has followed a no-compromise policy since the start of the pandemic, beginning with the unprecedented move to seal off 11 million people in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected, as well as in January 2020. in other parts of Hubei Province.

It has been able to tackle local outbreaks through contact tracing aided by lockdowns, tighter border controls and increased digital surveillance. The measures have so far kept the virus from spreading into a full-fledged national outbreak. The vaccination rate is now above 85%.

With the Olympics starting on 4 February and the support staff already approaching, the task becomes even more important. Whether Beijing’s security measures will last against the Omicron version is an important question.

“I think this is really a turning point for China. Could it stop Omicron?” said Dali Yang, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Chicago.

China reported 124 domestically infected cases on Thursday, including 76 in Henan province and 41 in Tianjin. Authorities have reported a total of 104,379 cases, of which 3,460 are currently active, and 4,636 have died, a figure that has not changed in months.

Kenji Shibuya, research director at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research and a public health expert, said Beijing’s Olympic bubble is more strict than Tokyo’s, which was mostly effective at preventing transmission, despite some leaks.

Beijing faces a potentially greater risk as the more infective Omicron variant has shown itself to be adept at evading vaccines.

In addition, the lack of a widespread outbreak means that the Chinese population is only protected from vaccines and not antibodies generated from previous infections, said Dr. Vinita Bal, a top Indian immunologist.

“The Olympics will be the first test,” Child said. Omicron “could easily travel in China.”

Unlike the Tokyo Olympic bubble, there will be no contact between the inside and the outside world.

Officials, athletes, staff and journalists will travel between hotels and competition venues on specially designated vehicles, described as a closed-loop system. The Chinese will have to quarantine for three weeks once they release the bubble.

Even garbage from within will be handled separately and Beijing’s traffic police say anyone involved in a collision with a designated Winter Olympics vehicle should take care not to come into contact with people on board. Wait for a special team to come and handle the matters.

If strictly enforced, such measures should be able to stop the spread of the virus within the bubble, said Kei Saito, a virologist at the University of Tokyo. But outside, it may be a different story.

“Omicron is three to four times more permeable than delta … I think it’s almost impossible to control the spread of Omicron,” Saito said.

Still, despite the global pandemic and controversies, including a US-led diplomatic boycott, organizers have determined that the Games will continue.

“The world is turning its eyes to China, and China is ready,” Chinese President and ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping said during an inspection tour of the competition sites last week.


Associated Press researcher Chen Si in Shanghai and Associated Press Science Writer Anirudh Ghoshal in New Delhi contributed to this report.


Nation World News Desk
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